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Bloomfield Township — A handyman charged in the beating death of an elderly township man is an ex-convict who had been fired for not completing repairs in the complex, but given work by his alleged victim, police said Wednesday.

Bart Mitchell Spencer, 45, of Wayne is named in criminal warrants with the Sept. 4 killing of William Whitelaw, 77, found by relatives inside his township condominium on Maple Hills Drive. An autopsy determined Whitelaw died from blunt force injuries to the head.

Bloomfield 48th District Judge Kimberly Small signed a warrant Tuesday which charges Spencer with open murder, arson, larceny in a building and related firearms offenses. He remains in federal custody pending a formal arraignment likely next week, Bloomfield Township Police Captain Scott McCanham said.

"Spencer had been fired by the condo association a few months earlier, but Whitelaw (the association president) hired him to do work at his place," McCanham said. "Whitelaw's family said he was one to give someone a second chance."

Investigators allege Spencer tried to cover up the killing by lighting candles inside Whitelaw's residence and turning on the gas in an unsuccessful effort to cause a fire. A witness saw Spencer's vehicle leaving the parking complex.

After Whitelaw's relatives said jewelry and firearms were missing from the home, a multi-police agency group fanned out to several Metro Detroit addresses. In Wayne, officers interviewed a woman who said Spencer showed up Sept. 4 with two duffle bags full of jewelry and other property and asked her to help him pawn it. Pawn receipts were found with Spencer's name on them.

In subsequent checks of pawn shops, investigators recovered property allegedly turned in by Spencer, including firearms belonging to Whitelaw.

Spencer remains in federal custody pending a supervisory release violation hearing Sept. 30 before U.S. District Judge Stephen J. Murphy III. Spencer's attorney could not be reached for comment Wednesday but the hearing involves his alleged activities on Sept. 4.

Court records show Spencer, while living in Toledo, Ohio, spent 12 years in a federal prison for an Ohio bank robbery conviction in 2000. He was released in 2012 but placed on five years of supervision. He was permitted to move to Michigan because he had a brother living in Garden City who offered to help him blend back into society.

Federal court records indicate Spencer had unspecified mental health issues and also suffered an eating disorder. A probation officer's report dated November 2011 found "he is not appropriate for release through a Residential Reentry Center as he is unable to work due to mental health issues."

Spencer subsequently signed a form in which he agreed to additional release terms including mental health treatment and taking prescribed medications.

"With the modifications it is hoped that Mr. Spencer's chance of successful reentry to the community will be significantly improved," according to the court record.

Spencer's relatives, including the mentioned brother, could not be reached for comment. Probation officers here and in Ohio declined to discuss Spencer on Wednesday.

Spencer remains in federal custody pending a supervisory release violation hearing Sept. 30 before Murphy.

Spencer had spent time in Michigan before his Ohio imprisonment. He was convicted of carrying a concealed weapon, a dagger, in 1987 in Farmington while he was living in Redford Township.

mmartindale@detroitnews.com

(248) 338-0319

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